Since the transition from military to civil democratic rule in 1999, over 20 years ago, Nigeria’s constitutional democracy has suffered stunted growth. The lofty promises of dividends of the hard-earned democracy, in the form of improved welfare and security of the life and property of citizens, remains unfulfilled.
These unfulfilled promises of quality service delivery in the form of a sustainable mechanism of good governance to the majority of the people by their elected political leaders has led many to question the very relevance of democracy towards the advancement of their socio-economic development. Interestingly, it is not democracy that is irrelevant to Nigeria’s socio-economic development but Nigeria’s unique brand of constitutional civil democratic rule that is increasingly becoming undemocratic.
In the last 20 years, Nigeria’s democracy has been greatly undermined by a peculiar form of a flawed electoral process, which is an anathema to the fundamentals of civil democratic governance, as it takes away from the people the power to freely elect their leadership without any form of inhibition. The progressive retrogression of Nigeria’s political process to a degenerate criminal franchise of power grab by every means possible for self-service has succeeded in entrenching a culture of political heist that has rendered democracy prostrate in Nigeria.
Consequently, the political leaders of the Nigerian state at all levels do not necessarily enjoy democratic legitimacy, as their authority is not conferred by people power. It is this stolen mandate that has arrested the socio-economic development of Nigeria and its people. To make a bad situation worse, the power of the people to reward and punish political leaders during Nigeria’s quadrennial electoral cycle is completely taken away from them, thereby perpetuating a degenerate leadership status quo, which is averse to public service in its preoccupation with self-service.
However, there was a successful attempt at reversing this ugly trend between 2011 and 2015 when the President Goodluck Jonathan administration embarked on a series of reforms aimed at sanitising Nigeria’s flawed electoral process to a more credible one. It was the success of the attempt at electoral reforms that resulted in a remarkably improved electoral process, which culminated in the unprecedented loss of then incumbent President Jonathan to then opposition candidate Muhammadu Buhari.
Nigeria had taken its rightful place as the largest democracy in Africa, or so it seemed. Unfortunately, the modest gains of 2015 were drastically reversed in 2019.
The colossal failure of the Buhari administration to fulfil its “Change” promise of tackling corruption and insecurity as well as improving the economy was very clear on the eve of the 2019 general election, having violated the social contract it entered with the people to improve their lives between 2015 and 2019, thereby reducing them to the poorest and most insecure in the world, with corruption spiralling out of control.
So, the alternative route to remain in power was avoiding popular sanction for a disastrous rule. Condemned by both local and international observers as falling short of the standards of the improved elections of 2015, the 2019 general election can best be described as the worst in the 20-year history of the Fouth Republic.
Characterised by massive rigging through stuffing of ballot boxes, underage voting, widespread violence and vote-buying, collectively aided and abetted by a thoroughly compromised electoral management body in concert with an equally compromised security apparatus, the 2019 elections were clearly manipulated to retain the ruling party in power against the popular wishes of the majority of Nigerians whose lives were made miserable by the current administration.
Arising from widespread dissatisfaction with the 2019 general election is a barrage of over 1,689 litigations challenging the outcome at all levels and, most importantly, the presidential election. Already, the major beneficiaries of the great electoral heist that was the 2019 general election are behaving like drunken sailors of a fast-sinking ship. The current set of Nigeria’s political leaders is buoyed in their bad behaviour by the implicit confidence they have a flawed electoral system that shuts out popular participation and removes the power to punish and reward bad or good governance at the ballot from the people. Most importantly, they are encouraged in their bad ways by a judicial process, which undermines the rule of law.
Whereas the operating system of a constitutional democracy is hinged on the principle of the rule of law, this has not been the case with Nigeria. Judicial decisions have often relied more on technicalities rather than on the morality of the rule of law. And whereas technicalities of the law are shallow, as they do not address the subject matter of litigations beyond the letters of the law, morality encapsulates the spirit, intention and persuasion behind the crafting of the letters of the law.
The crafters of the law are imperfect mortals whose efforts may not always fully convey the full import of the spirit, intention and persuasion behind the letters of the law. Unfortunately, dealers in electoral heist have often taken advantage of these imperfections on the grounds of technicalities to get away with their stolen mandates. The exploitation of loopholes in the law to get away with unlawful acts has been greatly aided and abetted by adjudications on technicalities.
This situation runs contrary to the principle of rule of law, which guarantees equality of every citizen of a constitutional democracy before the law, as adjudication of litigations on technicalities alone makes justice a privilege and not a fundamental human right.
If the judiciary is to live up to its reputation as the last hope of the common man, and considering the fundamental importance of credible elections to a functional democracy, the judiciary should be guided more by the morality of the rule of law and less by its technicalities in adjudicating electoral disputes.
The interest of common Nigerians is best served in a functional constitutional democracy, which gives them power to place and replace their political leadership at their freewill.
That the Constitution describes the fundamental duty of the state as the welfare and security of lives of its citizens suggests that all judicial adjudications arising from electoral disputes should be in furtherance of the aforementioned. By giving moral force to judicial adjudications, litigations in electoral matters must be weighed on the scale of the original intention of the Constitution, which is the welfare and security of citizens. Any other action, which appears to go contrary, should be interpreted as unlawful.
Having been widely acknowledged that a flawed electoral process is injurious to the socio-economic development of the Nigerian state and its people, even a single incidence of electoral malpractice, which compromises the independence of the electoral management body and security agencies acting at the behest of powers of incumbency, should be considered substantial enough a violation of the Electoral Act.